Top Risks in 2019

According to the Eurasia Group, a consultancy founded by Ian Bremmer, the global geopolitical environment is right now the most dangerous that it has been for many decades. So what is likely to impact on businesses, regional economies and society during 2019? There are around 10 areas of concern for us all.

Bad Seeds

There used to be an Australian band called The Bad Seeds, but we’re not talking about them. What the term ‘bad seeds’ means in this instance, is this: decision makers are so obsessed with an array of global crises in a world without trued global leadership, that they are allowing a range of future risks to take root and germinate, but these future risks are the ‘bad seeds.’ For example, the future of the European Union, the WTO and the relationship between Russia and China are negative.

US-China relations

The US leadership used to try and keep things smoothed over, but with Trump in office that approach has been dumped. Expect to see more confrontations between the two, especially in the areas of technology, economics and security.

Cyber Power

The US is going to exert its use of cyber power more seriously this year. However, it’s likely to backfire on it rather than create a system of global deterrence.

Populism in Europe

Europe is holding elections in May and it is likely that we will see more eurosceptics win seats. We have seen the rise of eurosceptics in the last two years, the UK and Italy being two prominent examples. These populists blame Brussels for their domestic problems and now they are winning support at home by promising to flout EU rules, or leaving the EU. They will win more seats and undermine the ability of the EU to function.

US domestic politics

The government has been closed down since before Christmas 2018. This year will bring more chaos and volatility to US domestic politics.

Reduced innovation

There will be a reduced level of investment in driving technological development. Eurasia Group believes this will be driven by concerns about security, privacy and economics, as leading countries “put up barriers to protect their emerging tech champions.”

Mexico

The new Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador –or AMLO—wishes to improve Mexico by taking it back several decades. His strategy includes more spending and poor policies that are more interventionist. While Mexico was ahead of other Latin American countries, expect to see it look more like them this year.

Ukraine

Putin wants Ukraine to be within Russia’s sphere of influence. It is likely to interfere in Ukrainian elections this year, which will pose a problem, for Ukraine and leaders in the European Union who will have to decide how to respond.

Nigeria

This year Nigeria is about to hold one of its biggest and most fiercely contended elections since the country became a democracy in 1999. Neither of the two leading candidates have anything to offer the country, or policies that will reduce its problems.

Brexit

At the time of writing, the Parliament at Westminster is about to vote on the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by Prime Minister Theresa May. Neither those who want to leave the EU, nor those who want to remain in the EU like it. Nobody knows what will happen when the deal is most likely voted down, but it is going to be an even bigger shambles in the UK throughout 2019 and that will affect the rest of Europe as well.

 

FinTech is Growing Up

Wharton, one of the world’s most respected business schools, has recently published an article following a recent conference at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia on the topic of “Fintech: The Impact on Consumers, Banking, and Regulatory Policy” and it presents some very interesting views on where Fintech is at right now. It’s no longer seen as a fledgling disruptor that is working against the interests of the banking community; now bankers are seeing it as a potential partner when it comes to fintech startups.

Robert Nicholls, president of the American Banking Association said: “We are actively seeking startups to partner with,” and they are busy inviting fintech firms to present to the annual ABA convention. Collaboration is the word on these bankers’ lips and they have even developed a ‘fintech playbook’ for smaller banks. The way they see it is this: banks have trusted relationships, but fintech can enhance the customer experience.

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Banks embrace Fintech startups

As a result of this willingness to embrace fintech, banks of all sizes are looking at ways to create innovations with these new partners. For example, Capital One has integrated its services with Amazon’s Alexa. Consumers can ask Alexa for their account balance, request that it track their spending or even make a payment. Bank of America is set to debut its chatbot Erica on the bank’s mobile app to help customers with personal finance decisions.

And, most importantly, numerous U.S. banks are using a fintech platform that allows customers to transfer money in minutes, rather than days. Zelle and Ripple are key players in this sector for the moment.

Another development to come out of a bank in North Carolina is cloud-based technology that streamlines the commercial lending process. And, Eastern Bank in Boston, has adopted Numerated, a startup that enables clients to apply for a small business loan in minutes and get funding within two days. The bank hired fintech entrepreneurs to work with traditional bankers and build an innovation lab that led to the launch of Numerated.

Governments look for cryptocurrency solutions

However, the banks are still quite nervous when you start talking about cryptocurrencies. It is a sector that is risk averse and the volatility in the digital coin market still makes them uneasy. Having said that, bankers at the conference believed that cryptocurrencies will become strong in economies where “people do not have confidence in their own currency or they are avoiding controls on their money,” as William Nelson at The Clearing House told the meeting. He thinks that developed economies with strong currencies will have less use for it, yet Singapore and England are looking at developing their own digital currencies, which means that world economic leaders have not written off Bitcoin and its peers; instead they are looking for solutions and want to be ready.

The blockchain must be trusted

But while there may be some doubts about cryptocurrencies, the blockchain is much more readily accepted. Gurwinder Ahluwalia  of Digital Twin Labs told Wharton attendees that he believed the flexibility and agility of the blockchain gave it more appeal than crypto coins. He said: “You could have warranty programs. You could have provenance of parts to the aircraft industry, provenance of luxury assets. You could have the tracking of transoceanic shipments. You could have the tracking of food for its various associated benefits.” He added that the last hurdle blockchain has to overcome in order to become widely accepted by the traditional financial world is “establishing trust in a decentralized platform and establishing governance.”

This is on the way as banks, governments and other businesses test blockchain technology. Ahluwahlia believes that blockchain will prove itself, because “It provides the trust. It provides the peer-to-peer. It provides the crytography. It provides the database.” It certainly looks like Fintech will show the ‘adults’ that it is grown-up enough to play a role in the world of global finance.

 

 

The New Necessities

As technology progresses we have created a list of new necessities that we see as absolutely fundamental to living in a way that we see as fitting. In past decades, such as the 50s and 60s, these ‘things’ were fewer in number and many of them were focused around the domestic scene, such as vacuum cleaners, washing machines and dishwashers. Some of these were only available to wealthier people, whereas today, a refrigerator is present in almost every home in the developed world.

Today, we have moved on to the latest gadgets and services. The need for Wi-Fi, not just in the home, but everywhere we go, is just one of the new necessities. The mobile phone is another one, and younger generations can’t believe that people managed to survive without one. The smartphone has raised the game in mobile telecoms and now, if you don’t have an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy, you are seen as being out of step with society.

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What people want

I was looking at a recent survey of the luxuries that people couldn’t do without and was quite surprised to read what people considered vital and what could easily be discarded. Pets, a clothes dryer and a good mattress were classed as ‘must haves’ alongside Wi-Fi and a smartphone. It is a rather eclectic list. Buying lunch and eating out was also prioritised over going to the gym in the health and wellness category, which is also slightly odd, and such is the hold of coffee on today’s population that it was chosen as the ‘must have’ beverage.

Interestingly, grocery delivery isn’t as popular as the Amazon Prime service, and a music streaming service like Spotify is less popular than Netflix. Beauty products are almost a ‘must have’ but not quite, and in fact the whole Health and Beauty sector scored very poorly in terms of necessities, which strikes me as curious given the amount of marketing that goes into this sector.

A personal trainer is at the bottom of the health list, followed by massages and manicures, the latter scoring about the same as a grocery delivery service. Salon haircuts and attending a gym are on a level with Amazon Prime and organic produce, while the beauty products are on a par with having a dishwasher. But, nothing in Health and Beauty makes it onto the ‘must have it’ list.

Huge potential for the mobile industry

What we can conclude from this piece of research is that communication tools are the things we value most. Of course things like Amazon Prime don’t work without Internet, so many of the services that are further down the list are dependent on those two items at the top – Wi-Fi and a smartphone. Both these give us access to a world, at a new speed. And this is why the mobile telecoms industry is such an exciting one, because it is an important part of people’s new necessities.

Mobile Technology Trends of 2017

The development of mobile technology continues to move at speed and this year we have seen some critical new applications, so much so, that I believe 2017 will be seen as the benchmark year for mobile technology, especially in its use by small businesses.

There have been some outstanding apps developed by consumer brands like Subway and Starbucks, and this opens the way for less well-known businesses to do the same. In fact, I read that 50% of small businesses are creating a mobile app this year and that is a great indication of the importance they place on mobile for growing a company.

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Location, location

Another trend that has grown impressively this year is that of location-based apps. These allow a business to offer a service based on the customer’s location and it is not difficult to foresee that the ability to offer real-time services in a specific location will have an impact on a variety of small businesses, and the larger ones.

Augmented reality

Augmented reality apps are another trend that is gaining traction. Some people thought these were just a gimmick, but when you combine the AR technology with a utility app, in other words one that is practical and useful, you have an app that is very engaging. They particularly appeal to the millennial generation and businesses that work on using augmented reality will have better engagement with customers in this group.

Instant apps are a winner

I also see that instant apps are becoming more important, for obvious reasons. There is no need to find the app and download it, install it and all the rest. The apps that run instantly when needed and are the secret of a faster, simpler mobile experience. Google’s new technology is leading this sector.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is also making inroads in mobile apps. A number of developers are embedding it in their apps, which is a significant step forward for educational apps. For example, apps that teach children based on how that child learns are emerging. All children have different learning styles and these apps will help them to achieve even better exam results. It can also be applied to consumer shopping with the creation of apps that help you to shop based on what you like, so that the consumer would essentially have a personal shopper on their mobile device.

Remote control

We are also seeing more gadgets and household equipment being linked to the Internet and this requires apps to control them remotely. This is another trend that will boost the growth in mobile technology. And, security is another factor that developers are working on this year, as our mobile devices become increasingly storage devices for money and its equivalent.

It has been predicted that around 268 million mobile apps will be downloaded by the end of 2107 and this translates into $77 billion in business revenue. This sum doesn’t just come from purchasing apps; it is revenue that is also based on increased sales through improved customer engagement and loyalty. This is the secret of growth and why businesses should be adopting mobile technology as soon as possible.